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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Water on the Earth and Beyond Public Lecture - The Rosetta Mission to a Comet: an attempt to sample water frozen 4.5 billion years ago

16th February 2010, 20:15 to 21:15, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College, Professor Ian Wright

This is the fourth Water on the Earth and Beyond Public Lecture.

In the beginning was nothing...
Or rather, not nothing exactly. But a tenuous volume of space containing a collection of nine billion years' worth of cosmic debris. Somehow or other, this volume of space collapsed in on itself - we are not completely sure how, but we know that it happened because we are here to consider the results. We also know that there was a hot bit in the middle, where the Sun formed, and cold bits around the edges (where icy planets are to be found). And in between there were regions where the conditions were such that solid bodies containing liquid water could exist. And so, the Solar System came into existence.

Our ultimate "big questions" revolve around how the Solar System formed and how life originated; as far as the sentient beings who inhabit the Earth are concerned the two are related. In this regard, if we take the view that life required raw materials from both hot and cold regions then we can speculate on what we can learn by studying samples of ice that remain unaltered from before the time when life got started. This is why in 1993 I designed an instrument that will (with luck) in 2014 help to provide some relevant insights.

Water has a dramatic influence on the chemical and physical properties of natural materials, and so has played a central role in shaping our environment. Most importantly for us, it has dominated the evolution of our own planet and appears to have been essential for the emergence of life. These public lectures will cover a range of topics, starting with Earth based phenomena - water and volcanism and a better understanding of ocean processes - before moving on to cover extraterrestrial topics including water on Mars, a search for water frozen billions of years ago, and the importance of water in defining the "habitable zone" of extra-solar planetary systems.

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This public lecture is free and open to all to attend.

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